While considering amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act, the Union cabinet has quietly foisted on the nation a deeply regressive decision. It has vetoed the adoption of children by same-sex couples. This would affect queer couples both in India (where both their queerness and their being together remain more or less criminal) and abroad (including places where it is perfectly legitimate to be queer and joined in some sort of union). This decision — in itself and in its larger implications — is alarming and unacceptable in a 21st-century democracy that swears by ‘development’. First, as an indication of how the government feels about homosexuality, this does not bode well for the prospect of life without Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. If adult homosexuality is sodomy, and sodomy is “against the order of nature”, then such unnatural folk (including lesbians) cannot be entrusted with the sacrosanct business of bringing up the nation’s children. This, presumably, is the logic behind such a decision. In India, the law allows single men and women above the age of thirty to adopt, and this is often how queer people go in for adoption through the existing law. But, the government’s queer-political ‘awareness’ might now make this possibility difficult for them.
The assumption that conventional heterosexual families provide the only acceptable conditions of nurture for children is absurd in a country where the huge number of abandoned children, or children rescued from situations of unspeakable domestic distress, makes it necessary, in the first place, to have liberal adoption laws. So, the official logic implicit in such a veto is that children have to be protected from certain forms of unnaturalness or criminality, in which category other forms of damage — sexual violence or forced labour, for instance — may be allowed to remain invisible, for they take place in the traditional family, to which even the children who have run away from such violence should be ‘rehabilitated’ by law. Human beings — especially in poor, overpopulated countries — work out all sorts of arrangements around the business of nurture and survival, many of which are radically and salutarily unconventional. A rapidly changing modern world makes room for diverse kinds of vulnerability, need, responsibility and caring. A society in which the fundamentals of justice are not in place cannot be good for its children.